PROJECT CASE STUDY:

Supporting the Mining Industry using Intelligence from Satellites

The Satellite Applications Catapult has been leading a consortium of 10 companies with expertise in geology, mapping, Earth observation and mining to investigate the possibility of improving prospecting for Lithium using data obtained from Satellites.

Landsat image of Cornwall

Why lithium?

Lithium is one of the most important metals in the world due to growing demand for electric vehicles powered by lithium-ion batteries and for storage of power produced from renewable sources. Lithium consumption is therefore expected to grow rapidly over the next few decades.

This project was designed to discover if it is possible to detect a lithium ‘fingerprint’ from space by imaging vegetation and minerals on the ground using satellites. Ultimately this will reduce the costs associated with the exploration phase of lithium mining.

The approach is expected to be highly valuable for the commercialisation of lithium exploration, alongside other metals. It also develops a new capability in the satellite applications sector which is exploitable internationally.

What were the project objectives?

  1. To use information from geology and vegetation to predict the presence of subterranean Lithium brines
  2. To support mining companies in environmental studies with earth observation techniques
  3. To create a visualisation tool to show a prospectivity map of lithium within 2 areas of interest in Cornwall
  4. To look at future opportunities for mining companies to use the same or similar processes

What did we do?

Using a combination of datasets from multiple satellites, airborne surveys and historical maps and by looking at the geology of the areas in question, the project has produced a prospectivity map. The research was also supported by ground testing of the selected areas.

The research highlighted areas where there is a significantly increased likelihood of finding lithium brines, which can subsequently be exploited by mining.

What is the impact of this project?

  • Location indicators can reduce the cost of prospecting for mining companies
  • There are significant other applications for this research, from mineral exploration, environmental monitoring, transport and logistics, to day-to-day mining operations.
  • On-the-ground activities can be reduced, and exploration can be increased in an industry that is embracing technology as part of a solution to reduce costs.
  • Space industry growth (Environmental monitoring and compliance is about 5% of total costs of mining operations. With the top 40 mining companies spending US$448bn on operations in 2015, this would mean a spend of US$22bn on environmental monitoring and compliance. Even a 1% market share would mean a US$220m market value for satellite-based solutions.)
  • During the trip to Bolivia, the team was asked to support the GREAT Britain campaign with pictures being included int he Prime Minister’s briefing pack
  • Cornish Lithium Ltd has employed three new people as a result of this project and follow on phases will contribute to enabling new UK mining activity worth £2.5bn per year of additional revenues and 5,000 new jobs by FY22.

What next?

  • There is a customer for the outputs of the project, who were part of the original project consortium and who are keen to put the findings into practice and develop an enhanced solution in a future second phase of the project
  • We also explored opportunities in Bolivia (which boasts 40-60% of global lithium resources) including an exciting workshop with a major mining company, highlighting several user requirements and their extraction process. A high-level framework of activities was outlined, and will be subsequently iterated upon, to foster an Anglo-Bolivian partnership.

Project Lithium Consortium

“We are delighted to be part of this exciting project, as well as for the recognition that our project has received from Innovate UK. Lithium has significant strategic importance to the UK economy and we hope that the funding will accelerate understanding of the potential to extract lithium in Cornwall.  We believe that techniques developed from this study will prove of great interest to the mining industry globally given the growing importance of Earth Observation techniques as an unobtrusive exploration tool worldwide. We look forward to taking this exciting project forward to the next stage of its development.”

Jeremy Wrathall, Founder & CEO, Cornish Lithium Ltd.

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